Why Hockey is still Canada's Sport

Few American's could tell you when the Stanley Cup Playoffs are played.  In fact, the vast majority of you probably don't even know that they're going on right now!  Contrast this with Canada where, not unlike the Lakers in Los Angeles, they have rioted after wins and losses.  Why is a sport so beloved by our neighbors to the north stuck in the ratings gutter here in the States? The most common theory behind the struggling league is that it's not a family friendly sport.  It's easy to see where that view point comes from.  Ask any non-hockey fan what a typical NHL game is like and they'll tell you "lots of fights, right?"  Right.  There are fights in hockey.  And I do believe that plays a large role in keeping the league at its "indie" status.  But there are also contradictions in this stigma placed on the game.  Baseball is probably the only other American sport that could rival hockey in the professionalism of its athletes.  Both leagues have bad seeds of course, but you will never hear of an NHL player involved in a shooting at a bar or bringing a gun to the locker room.  Sitting out part of the season to secure a more lucrative contract is unheard of.  In fact, the lockout that cancelled the 2004-2005 season was an effort by team owners to cut pay to athletes already making less than any other major professional sport in the country.  Most NHL players are humble and reserved in pre and post game interviews.  They take the sport very seriously.

You may be wondering how athletes who appear to be so professional would be so vicious on the ice.  The answer is it's part of the game.  Many fights are calculated plays.  It is not uncommon for an NHL team to employ a "bruiser" to be their enforcer in situations where a muscle man is needed.  And it should be mentioned that a fight on ice is nothing like a fight on grass with cleats or tennis shoes on asphalt.  There is a reason injuries in hockey fights are so rare.  They look worse than they are.  You can only do so much when you're standing on a rail on ice.  This is a large factor why there has been little effort by the league to get rid of fighting.  Though many issues were addressed after the lockout season as to ways to better market the sport.  Disallowing fighting was one of the considered rule changes among many that didn't catch much traction.

Also consider how difficult it is for the average American to play hockey as a child.  If you're lucky enough to have an ice rink nearby, you'd certainly have an opportunity to play.  That is if your parents are willing to shell out the several hundred dollars in gear on top of the several hundred dollar league fees (per season).  I believe this is the overwhelming reason hockey remains such an underground sport on this side of the Canadian border.  Like many other sports, it's hard to enjoy or appreciate it when you don't know the rules.  You probably won't be motivated to learn the rules of hockey on your own with the idea that you might enjoy watching it afterwards.

So what would it take to put hockey into the living rooms of American families?  It would probably take a considerable effort by the NHL to promote the sport at the youth level.  Canada has the perfect climate to facilitate a rink on every corner, driving down costs.  That will not happen in the US unless the NHL steps in and makes a contribution.  It's unlikely that will happen anytime soon.  Many hockey teams are struggling financially.  Look at the turmoil in Phoenix with the Coyotes.

For now it appears the NHL will remain on the sidelines for most American sports fans.  Though what fans it does have are tremendously loyal.  If nothing else the public might learn something from that.  Hockey is an exciting sport with highly skilled players.  If you've never tried it go to a game sometime!  You might just discover a new addiction.